Art and taboo
The Tiger Lillies, once a frequent guest in Russia, will return after a two-year hiatus. The outrageous British cabaret trio last came to St. Petersburg to perform and record a collaboration album with local ska-punk band Leningrad in September 2003.
By Sergey Chernov
The Tiger Lillies, once a frequent guest in Russia, will return after a
two-year hiatus. The outrageous British cabaret trio last came to St.
Petersburg to perform and record a collaboration album with local
ska-punk band Leningrad in September 2003.
In the past two
years the band was extremely busy releasing two albums, ?Punch and
Judy,? based on a theater show, and ?Death and the Bible,? described as
?10 sad songs of Death and 8 jaunty tunes [about] Jesus and pals on one
CD? on the band?s web site.
?It was recorded at the same time
as ?The Sea? ,? said The Tiger Lillies accordion player and
vocalist Martyn Jacques speaking by phone from London this week about
the group?s most recent album.
?The original idea was going to
be, like, a double album, ?Death, the Bible and the Sea,? the three
subjects that I wrote about quite a lot. But, I?m not quite sure why,
in the end we just decided to release one album. It was all recorded in
Hamburg, Germany, three years ago. We released it just a couple years
According to Jacques, the band will release another
pair of albums by the end of this year, one, tentatively called ?Urine
Palace,? containing new songs recorded at the Soho Theater in London,
while another, called ?The Little Match Girl? will be based on The
Tiger Lillies? theater show after the Hans Christian Andersen story.
The Tiger Lillies? double bass player Adrian Stout and drummer Adrian
Huge also contributed to ?Lucky Dog Recordings 03/04,? a solo album by
the Tindersticks? Stuart Staples released in July.
the Berlin performance ?The Mountains of Madness,? a collaboration with
the band and bassist Alexander Hacke of the the German experimental
rock band Einsturzende Neubauten, based on stories by H.P. Lovecraft,
was filmed for a DVD release in August.
In this year?s
Meltdown festival held in London in June and curated by the U.S. punk
legend Patti Smith, The Tiger Lillies, whose influences include Gypsy
music, Italian opera, Bertold Brecht, American folk singers and 1970s
British punk, performed three Brecht songs during the festival?s night
dedicated to the German playwright.
?[Smith] performed on the
same night. She sang a couple of songs by Brecht. She was very good
curating the show. I think David Bowie did Meltdown a few years ago,
and I don?t think he even turned up, he wasn?t even there. So she was
there every night and was performing at a lot of shows so she was
actually involved in the festival. She?s a good person, I think, Patti
The Tiger Lillies? collaboration album with Leningrad,
?Huinya,? was released in Russia in March, after many delays, but
Jacques said he had not had a chance to listen to the resulting CD.
?I haven?t seen a copy, actually, I hope I will see one when I come to Russia,? he said.
?I enjoyed doing it. I had the rough mixes, I mastered copies of it,
and I thought it sounded funny. Again, I like to do these projects,
crazy projects with different people. It?s good fun to collaborate with
different kinds of musicians, different styles, different backgrounds.
I think the band is very funny. Leningrad is a funny bunch of guys.?
Two years ago, The St. Petersburg Times sat with The Tiger Lillies in
the kitchen of a rented flat to speak about art and taboos, soon after
a Moscow newspaper attacked the trio for Satanism due to controversial
songs and image.
?The British Tiger Lillies [...] have been
labeled by the Western media as ?the most incorrigible scoundrels,
blasphemers and sado-nazis in the world,? said the somewhat misinformed
?The Tiger Lillies are banned all over Europe, and they play only in skinheads? clubs.?
Using the word ?blasphemers,? the journalist probably refered to
?Banging in the Nails,? The Tiger Lillies? song about the crucifixion
from the band?s 1996 album ?The Brothel to the Cemetary.?
crucifying Jesus, banging in the nails, and I am so happy, because old
Jesus failed,? sings Jacques in his trademark falsetto vocals in the
song, sending some into shock.
?I write quite a lot of lyrics that are really extreme,? said Jacques.
?The way I see it, it?s a bit like if you go to the National Gallery (I
wish people would understand it like this in a way), you see paintings
in there, people being raped, people being buggered, all this is
violence, terrible violence, and terrible things going on.
you look at a Crucifixion [scene], there?s a man and he?s having nails
[driven into] his wrists. The violence of it, it?s obscene. His ribs
are always cut, there?s blood coming out, it?s really violent, and so
much of the Bible is graphic violence. And now that?s art. What?s the
difference between that and what we did. I just wish people would
listen to some of the lyrics that we do, and just saw as being art.?
According to Jacques, The Tiger Lillies? work helps listeners to deal
with prejudices imposed by society, liberating their minds.
?What we?ve been doing is sort of like looking at the way people think
and the way society works. That?s what artists always try to do ? to
make people question. We try to make people think. It?s challenging,
trying to push people and opening people?s minds.
what art tries to do. There are lots of artists in the world and they
all try to do this thing, one way or another. Maybe some of them don?t
really rationalize it. We just try to make people challenge their
conceptions and prejudices ? and bring out the absurdity of them.?
There are more uncomfortable subjects that The Tiger Lillies touch on
in their songs. For instance, the 1997 album ?Farmyard Filth,? with
such songs as ?Hamsters? and ?Sheep,? concentrates on bestiality.
Speaking about that work, Jacques stressed the absurdity of social
?In a way that?s a game we play as artists,? he said.
?If we talk about September 11, it?s totally acceptable to film people
jumping out of a building. Real people. Over and over again. That?s
?I can?t sing a song where I profess my
love for a sheep. That?s unacceptable. You can?t have that on
television. It?s a silly song about falling in love with a sheep.
There?s just a suggestion, ?Perhaps there?s a sexual connotation with
this relationship.? Then it becomes a taboo. I think artists tend to
work with real taboos.?
Jacques argued that such songs as ?Sheep? are simply a truthful reflection of reality.
?Why shouldn?t you be able to talk about the things that actually
exist. I think people do actually like to have sex with sheep. I sing a
song about falling in love with a sheep ? why is it offensive when it?s
true? I mean there are people who love to have sex with animals. And
not just animals ? dead people, anything, that?s actually real!?
Bassist Stout recalls a story to illustrate how The Tiger Lillies?
truthful approach to the harsh facts of life helps people not to go
?There?s a man in London who used to drive an ambulance,? he said.
?He came running into the pub, ?Oh, thank God, you are playing, I can
have a couple of pints. And he?s just been picking up arms and legs
from this huge car crash. And [the man] was thinking: ?Oh great, The
Tiger Lillies are playing tonight.? That?s true. He chose this job and
he chose to see The Tiger Lillies. That?s what it?s all about.?
The Tiger Lillies will perform at PORT at 7 p.m. on Sunday.